Walt Disney World is known the world over as a beloved family destination. From the top-notch entertainment to the thrilling rides, from five-star dining to recreational activities, Disney provides a vacation experience that is difficult to beat. Most families plan their trips eagerly, their only concern figuring out the best days to visit each park. But for those dealing with a physical disability, planning is often tempered by concerns.
Hearing and vision impairments affect all areas of daily living, and entertainment is no exception. Guests with these issues may worry that they will miss a significant portion of all Disney has to offer.
Fortunately, visitors to Walt Disney World needn’t worry at all. Disney’s guest service is legendary, and the parks are fully equipped to ensure that all guests, regardless of disability, are able to enjoy their Disney vacation. Additionally, Walt Disney World offers a total sensory experience: sound, sight, touch, and even smell combine to create the magic. Thus, a guest who has impairment of one sense can still utilize their remaining senses for a totally immersive experience.
Upon arriving at Animal Kingdom, make your way directly to Guest Relations, located just inside the park entrance. Describe the nature of your disability to the Cast Member at the desk, and he or she will provide you with the assistance that you require. Guests with visual disabilities may choose a Braille guidebook or an audio tour of the park. A per item deposit is required, and will be refunded if you return the item the same day. Braille maps are also available free of charge.
The audio tour provides a guided walking tour of the park. It is quite detailed, and includes helpful information such as the distance between attractions. There are also descriptions of each attraction.
For guests with hearing disabilities, listening devices that amplify the sound tracks of the attractions are available. A deposit is required, and will be refunded when you return the device the same day. A park guide map is available that will show which attractions participate. Additionally, some attractions offer reflective and video captioning, or have scripts available. Ask individually at each attraction.
*Tip* Service animals are permitted throughout the property. While at Guest Relations, ask the Cast Member to point out on your guide map the service animal break areas and explain the service animal break policy in detail. You must remain with the animal at all times.
*Tip* Service animals are permitted in every attraction unless ride safety regulations prohibit them. At attractions that do not permit service animals to ride, procedures are in place for the animal to remain in a safe location while you ride. Ask at each attraction, as procedures vary. Generally a member of your party must wait with the animal.
*Tip* Sign language interpreters are available with two weeks advance notice. Additionally, some shows are interpreted at certain times. Guest Relations can provide you with a guide map that lists the interpreted show times for the day of your visit.
Animal Kingdom is perhaps the most unique theme park in the world. A blend of zoo and theme park, Animal Kingdom offers both education and excitement. The park is divided into several themed areas: The Oasis, Discovery Island, Africa, Asia, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Dinoland USA, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
*Tip* With miles of nature trails and a jungle setting, Animal Kingdom can, at times, be difficult to navigate. It is recommended that those with visual impairments enjoy this park with a sighted companion.
*Tip* Be especially careful with your service animal in this park. Be sure to experiment with taking the animal to a zoo prior to your vacation. Many habitats are quite naturalistic, and the aviaries offer a completely open experience. Ensure that your animal will neither chase birds nor be afraid of larger animals.
This park entrance area leads to the Tree of Life. The area is lush with vegetation, and animals lurk around every corner. Take time out to fully appreciate The Oasis, as it serves as a transition into the wilds that follow.
*Tip* Although it is not by any stretch of imagination a maze, The Oasis does offer multiple pathways, some narrow and winding. Choose your footing carefully, and be sure to keep your service animal close.
The main attraction here is the 4-D show, It’s Tough to Be a Bug, located inside the Tree of Life. Service animals are permitted, and the show offers reflective captioning.
Africa’s signature attraction is the Kilimanjaro Safaris. Service animals are permitted to board at the wheelchair dock; see a Cast Member for more information. On board the ride vehicle, the animals are identified on plaques near the ceiling of the vehicle, and the driver states their names orally. Thus, the ride can be enjoyed by both the visually and hearing impaired.
Due to safety restrictions, service animals may not ride Expedition Everest nor the Kali River Rapids. Please consult a Cast Member at these attractions for information on a waiting area for your animal.
Do not miss this area’s main attraction, the Festival of the Lion King. This Broadway-quality show combines song, dance, and acrobatics to tell the story from the movie. As a fully immersive sensory experience, it can be enjoyed by all, despite visual or hearing impairments. Service animals are permitted in the show building.
*Tip* If there are children in your party, this is the best place for them to meet their favorite characters. Consult your guide map for times.
This area of the park is further subdivided into two sections. One focuses on the scientific history of dinosaurs, while the other is a re-creation of a carnival midway. Due to safety restrictions, service animals may not board Dinosaur or Primeval Whirl. Please see a Cast Member at these attractions for information on where the animal may wait.
*Tip* The Boneyard play area re-creates a dig site, and is great fun for all ages.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
This area of the park, dedicated to spreading the message of conversation, is accessible only by train. Service animals are permitted on the train as well as in most of the exhibits.
*Tip* Service animals are not permitted in Affection Section, the petting zoo area.
*Tip* The main building in this area of the park is often quite crowded. Be especially careful when navigating through the building.
Animal Kingdom is truly a different type of park. A fully immersive sensory experience is offered. Be sure to keep your service animal on his best behavior, and visit with a companion if at all possible. With a little advance planning and the use of appropriate adaptive devices, Animal Kingdom is an excellent choice for all guests, regardless of visual or hearing impairment.